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Altschuler’s lead narrows as absentee ballots counted

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Randy Altschuler’s lead in the 1st Congressional District race narrowed to 275 votes after the second day of counting absentee ballots at the Suffolk County Board of Elections in Yaphank.

Rep. Tim Bishop has had a net gain of 108 votes in the absentee ballot tally so far, which has been completed for 93 of the 460 election districts of the 1st Congressional District, which stretches from the tips of the twin forks west to Smithtown.

Elections workers have counted absentee ballots in 59 of the 60 election districts in Smithtown, which is considered the strongest town for Altschuler, who lives in St. James, according to Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider. So far, workers have counted 34 of 42 election districts in Bishop’s home town of Southampton.

“The momentum is clearly on Tim Bishop’s side as we continue to pick up votes,” Schneider said. 

The Altschuler campaign could not immediately be reached for comment.

BOE workers will finish counting Smithtown and Southampton absentee ballots today and then begin East Hampton and Southold, according to Schneider. He predicted Bishop will make strong gains in East Hampton, which he said is Bishop’s strongest town. The Bishop campaign is confident the incumbent will overtake Altschuler in the absentee balloting and win the election, Schneider said.

The Suffolk County Board of Elections issued more than 13,000 absentee ballots in the 1st CD contest. More than 11,000 have been returned so far. Military and overseas ballots have until Nov. 24 to arrive at the BOE’s Yaphank headquarters, though they must be postmarked by Nov. 1.

In addition to the absentee ballots, there are more than 1,000 other paper ballots that weren’t scanned by voting machines on Election Day, either because the voters’ names did not appear in voter rolls at the polling places or because of mechanical malfunctions in the voting machines. These ballots are also being counted by election workers.

Every paper ballot is scrutinized by election workers, as well as lawyers and poll watchers for the candidates, who look for irregularities in the ballots and raise objections to ballots they deem irregular or illegal.

BOE workers will finish up counting absentee ballots in the congressional race next week, according to election officials. They will then turn to counting the 2,000-plus absentee ballots in the 1st Assembly District race between incumbent Democrat Marc Alessi and Republican challenger Dan Losquadro.

While the absentee ballots are being tallied, the BOE is simultaneously conducting a state-mandated audit of 43 randomly selected voting machines used in the general election in Suffolk County. The 43 machines represent 3 percent of the total number of voting machines used in the election. Auditors are manually counting every vote on every paper ballot scanned by each of these 43 machines and comparing the manual count with the machines’ electronic tally. If the 3 percent audit verifies the accuracy of the scanned results and reports, the BOE will certify the results of the election. If the 3 percent audit discloses significant discrepancies between the electronic tallies and the hand count, additional voting machines will be audited, and if more discrepancies are uncovered, the BOE may do a full hand count of all ballots.

Thus far, the audit, which is has been completed for about half of the 43 machines, has shown the machine counts to be accurate, according to election officials.

The machines counted 181,043 votes in the 1st CD race. Poll workers printed out reports from each machine and phoned the results in to BOE headquarters on election night. The phoned-in tally wasn’t completed until after 1 a.m. Nov. 3, and showed Bishop leading Altschuler by 3,461 votes. When the machine data was downloaded directly to BOE computers on Nov. 5, however, the results showed Altschuler ahead by 383 votes. The discrepancy between the phoned-in results and the downloaded data prompted the Bishop campaign to call for a full hand count of all ballots in the 1st CD race.

Bishop’s lawyers last week said they intend to file suit seeking a full hand count of all ballots scanned by voting machines in the 1st CD. But Schneider said this week the campaign is focusing on counting the absentee ballots first.

Altschuler spokesman Rob Ryan said last week the swing between results reported on election night and the results of the downloaded data was caused by poll workers who didn’t know how to read the reports generated by the new voting machines. The electronic reports are the accurate reports, Ryan said.

Altschuler, meanwhile, has been in Washington D.C. all week for a House of Representatives new member orientation program for the 112th Congress. The program, run by the Committee on House Administration, is to educate newly elected members of Congress on such matters as operations of the House, selection of office and staff and legal issues pertaining to congressional service, according to a press release issued by the Altschuler campaign.

PHOTO CAPTION: Challenger Randy Altschuler (R-St. James) and incumbent congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) shake hands after Veterans Day ceremonies at Calverton National Cemetery last week. RiverheadLOCAL photo by Peter Blasl.